Monday, March 6, 2017

A Day In The Anti-Life - Fourth Estate!

I've been a consumer of television news my whole life. I'm part of that generation which didn't move from newspapers to TV, but rather always suckled at the glass teat (as Harlan Ellison put it). News was something that happened a few times a day in my early years, in the morning, at noon and then again in the evening. There were local news reports often followed on by national news which hailed from three networks, of which the most venerable seemed to be CBS headed by Walter Cronkite. I personally grew up in an NBC household and the venerable team of Chet Huntley and  David Brinkley were the go-to voices for important things in the world. News was just news, and then it changed.

With the advent of cable news and more specific types of television channels came into existence. Famously people think of MTV but the most important addition to the TV dial was a project from Ted Turner, the owner of the Atlanta Braves and a major force in early cable development with TBS (Turner Broadcasting Services) and later Turner Classic Movies. What that addition was, was Cable News Network or CNN for short. CNN changed the way folks consumed news, now you were forced to wait for the dollops of news that the networks delivered in neatly packaged half-hour and sometimes hour long dosages, but were able to see the news when you wanted to.

One of the problems of course with a station hosting twenty-four hours of news is that finding enough news might be an issue. It sometimes was, but early on CNN's format was sort of to just keep doing regular news reports but over and over with occasional updates. By many reports it became normal for CNN to be left on in many offices and breaking stories merely unfolded in real time before our eyes. The first Gulf War really was an opportunity for CNN to show its mettle and it did so.

CNN proved successful and soon there were others like MSNBC and FOX who jumped onto the cable news business and CNN's luster faded. The network has been a real disappointment for many years and seemed content with light material with an entertainment spin or glomming onto whatever story seemed to be the center of spectacle at the time. While some critics still had regard for its overseas efforts, domestically CNN was a station I came to avoid. With an eye permanently on the ratings meter they milked meager stories for all they were worth and then some. A low point for me was the Boston bombing story which was generally a debacle for news reporting but for CNN offered countless chances to screw up as they seemed unable to even properly report what was happening before their very eyes.

And then came Donald Trump, the man destined to become our current "so-called" President. And with the advent of "The Donald" CNN has blossomed and become again a news organization worth the title. One one hand it can be suggested that the rise of Trump is just the latest fad they have glommed onto, but it's been a long long time now and they seem to have left that attitude behind for least I hope that's the case.

What I'm seeing from CNN these days is for real hard-nosed reporting by competent experienced tough-minded reporters taking proper journalistic care and delivering the goods on a regular basis. (MSNBC is too political too much of the time and Fox is downright disreputable too much of the time. Of note is how Mark Levine hijacked their air to rant and rave about the "wiretaps" in Trump Tower. A miserable bit of blather which got no push back but rather got merely pushed.) Reporters have not been slow to speak truth to power and they have been stalwart when the powers want to strike back. "Access" has always been the weapon that the powerful have used to tame the press, in other words demanding concessions in coverage to guarantee the ability to speak with the particulars. That weapon seems to have lost its potency with the Trump machine who either don't know how to use it deftly enough or are so egregious that finally at last that trade off is seen as too profane for the consciences of those in charge of the Fourth Estate.

Trump and his cronies have tried to belittle and undermine the press and they have been successful to some degree. The general public is convinced that the "media" (whatever that is) is not reliable, at least not as reliable and trustworthy apparently as a proven racist misogynistic serial liar who stumbled into the role of "Leader of the Free World". But sometimes people get pretty desperate to believe what they want to believe.  Despite these attacks by the powers above, the press and in particular CNN have not relented nor swooned in the heat of criticism. Instead they seem inspired to pour it on even more.

Cutting the mainstream press out of the loop in the White House is a foolish attempt to curb criticism and it's doomed to fail. The press does not require access to cover a public official nor a public event and now that "The Donald" has fallen out of his private tower of personal glory and moved into the "People's House" he will find much more difficult to hold the press at bay.

CNN is fulfilling its promise when it launched all those decades ago. It is doing what journalism is supposed to do in a free country, bringing the tough news to those folks who are in charge of this country really, the people. That some of those people might still prefer to drink the Kool-Aid provided by the Trump machine is not something purveyors of the facts can be concerned with. (I notice that Fox is doling it out in heaping helpings about this most recent fracas over wiretaps; disgraceful claptrap that even their own reporters have trouble defending, though others seem downright eager to once again stoke up the outrage machine which they keep primed with annual blasts at those who don't celebrate Christmas in the correct manner.) So it is even more important that CNN's folks keep their noses to the ground and find the facts and present them. You know those facts are uncomfortably close to the truth when the focus of the investigation begins to squall and  yells foul.

The purpose of journalism is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. To that end CNN is the tip of the spear in the modern American news landscape, I congratulate them and challenge them to keep it up for all our sakes. And I hope that if and when the ratings slip, they don't abandon their mission. It's too important.

Rip Off


  1. See, this is exactly what I'm after: political commentary with Kirby art.

    Much appreciated, Rip!

    1. Like any example of mediocre writing it's elevated by the application of great artwork.

      Rip Off

    2. The germ of this recent wiretap story seems to be a report from last year (unconfirmed) that the FBI had requested FISA warrants more than once on some folks in Trumpworld about Russian contacts. The Right Wing media ran it through their Crazy-Meter so that what Trump saw was Obama personally wiretapping him (see Stephen King's hilarious horror tweets about this). It wouldn't be too hard for Trump to back up and say what he meant was the Obama "administration" (his Justice Department) was persecuting him. The media has to be pretty scrupulous here. It's reasonable to assume there is an ongoing investigation based on what we know, but there's a danger of Trump succeeding in relativising the whole Russia case into incoherence in the eyes of the public. What's intriguing is how strongly Comey has come out against Trump on this. Sometimes this stuff piles up so high, I'm tired of hearing about it, but I think that's what the White House wants, so we need to pay attention. And it is getting kinda interesting; you have to have some pretty compelling evidence to be granted a warrant by the FISA court. So if Trump is right, what did he do to prompt a wiretap?

    3. This article says his tweet could end up being his undoing because to prove his claim he'll end up revealing why the warrant was justified.

    4. My feeling is that we've seen the crazy old guy just blow off his own toe with a rant that's far less substantive than even the most proficient spinner can wrangle. The absolute unfitness for office demonstrated by this most recent episode is staggering. But as you say Russ, the media must be careful not to be drawn to carelessly into a rhetorical web which will be put back on them. I don't think this was the intent of the rant, but it could be the ultimate effect.

      I noticed that when he signed the second Muslim ban order, he did so without the cheesy smile he's been sporting with his other signings. That look-at-me-mom lack of decorum was not present for this sobering second stab at keeping out all those dangerous refugees.

      Thanks for the link by the way.

      Rip Off


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